Persimmons, “Fruit of the Gods”

by Rita Calvert, The Local Cookpersimmons

Word through the grapevine has it that Homestead Gardens owner Don Riddle just adores persimmons. I decided to explore more to understand why. I had a large persimmon tree in my yard in North Carolina but didn’t get too cozy with the fruit, so I chatted with my friend Jen about these vibrant globes, as persimmons are the national fruit in her native Japan.

Jen just drools with the mention of the fruit: “Yes, the much anticipated season of the persimmon is upon us.  To see the glorious bright orange fruits hanging on branches alongside the colorful leaves of fall, glimmering in the morning frost, brings such joy.

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Jen with her cache of persimmons

“Each year, friends in California send homegrown persimmons to my mother in Idaho.  She called yesterday to say she put some in the mail for me.   Meanwhile, I was successful in finding some nice ones yesterday.  They do have that regal look about them while sitting on the plate!”

Michael Heller of Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro has lots of wild persimmon trees growing around the farm and he loves them almost as much as his cows. Michael says the wild ones are best after a couple of frosts and then when they’ve just fallen to the ground, you know they’re ripe.

This is an out take from a video I shot of Clagett Farm. Michael is feeding his darlin’ cow persimmons from that tree.  The complete 5-minute video is here.:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXyF2tnBQSw&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

What are they?

Often mistaken for under-ripe tomatoes, these round, orange-red fruits are popular world wide. Depending on the variety, persimmons can have smooth, custard-like flesh that tastes of banana and mango, or firmer flesh with notes of apricots and a mellow sweetness. 

Persimmons are part of the genus Diospyros, which means “fruit of the gods” in Greek, and they’re grown in many countries, including China, Italy, the United States, and Japan. They are in season from fall through winter and are an excellent source of fiber, as well as vitamins A and C.

Persimmon varieties are divided into two categories, astringent and nonastringent. Astringent varieties, such as the acornshaped Hachiya, are tannic and sour when underripe; they should be eaten when very ripe and jelly-soft. Fuyu is the most common nonastringent variety; shaped like pincushions, they are smaller than Hachiyas and have fewer tannins, so they can be eaten both underripe and soft. The Fuyu has a subtle, crisp flavor reminiscent of apricots, while the Hachiya has tropical fruit notes and is very rich and sweet.

Choosing: Look for a fruit that is plump, heavy for its size, and vibrantly colored, with glossy skin. Avoid those with bruises, blemishes or cracks.

Prepping:  Remove the core for both eating and cooking. The skin is edible, though you may want to peel it  because it can be a little waxy. Cut the fruit into wedges, slices, or cubes.  Ripe Hachiyas are often the persimmon of choice for sweet dishes. The firmer texture and subtly sweet flavor of Fuyus make them a good variety for savory preparations.

Storing: Keep the unripe fruit at room temperature, preferably in a brown paper bag to help it ripen. If persimmons are already ripe and soft when you buy them, eat them right away or store in the refrigerator for no more than two days.

Simple Servings:

  • Eat persimmons out of hand
  • Add them to sweet dishes such as puddings, breads, cookies, and ice cream
  • Consider using the persimmon as you would a mango such as a salsa
  • They’re also delicious in savory preparations like relishes and chutneys
  • Fabulous as that light sweeter ingredient in salads
  • Sautéed as a side dish for roasted poultry, pork or lamb

And here’s a recipe for Fuyu Persimmon and Fennel Salad with Hazelnuts  – enjoy!

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